We’ve seen Rick and Morty in Claymation form before, but never in a standalone Claymation short—until now. That’s all thanks to Lee Hardcastle, the animator who created a string of sci-fi parodies for the smash-hit series before Adult Swim tapped him to create this year’s Halloween special.
While fans wait for Rick and Morty proper to return from hiatus—the rest of season six begins November 20—they can enjoy Hardcastle’s creepy, surreal “Summer’s Sleepover” as a little holiday treat. io9 got a chance to speak with Hardcastle over video chat to learn more. You can watch the short here; what follows is a slightly edited for clarity and condensed version of our interview.
Cheryl Eddy, io9: How did you come to be involved with Rick and Morty?
Lee Hardcastle: I was contacted by Adult Swim quite a few years ago to do some [station identifications], the short 10-second things play in between the TV programs just to remind the viewer they’re watching Adult Swim. I did quite a few of them, and that developed into doing Rick and Morty ones. I started out doing Rick and Morty parodies of mad scientist films—like Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Re-Animator, The Fly. Adult Swim just kept asking me to do more, so I ended up making about 36 of them, and I’ve been doing that for about three or four years. Then last year they asked me if I wanted to do a short film, so that’s how that came about.
io9: The set-up looks like it’s inspired by the slumber party scene from season four’s “Rattlestar Ricklactica”—but is “Summer’s Sleepover” your original idea otherwise? How much creative control did you have?
Hardcastle: It was all my idea, my whole thing, my project. I usually do a lot of cinematic violence in animation form—I’ve constantly got fake blood on my fingers all the time. [Hardcastle holds up blood-stained hands as proof.] So I was going for that angle because [I thought that’s] what they were wanting me to do. But they said they were having a problem with the violence and stuff, and I wanted to avoid that. So that led me down a different route that I wouldn’t have otherwise have gone down. That was the only sort of interference or guidance. But apart from that, it was quite free rein. It was a bit of a strange process because I’ve never been asked to do anything like this before, so I didn’t really know what to expect. [Mostly] they just let me get on with it. It’s always been quite like that with Adult Swim, actually.
io9: Why did you decide to make Summer the main character?
Hardcastle: So yeah—one detail I forgot to mention, when they approached me, they said “We’d like to do a Rick and Morty one-off, but the ones we’ve done previously have always been about Rick and Morty, so we’d like to do one that focused a bit more on one of the other family members.” So that’s why we ended up focusing a lot more on Summer and keeping Rick and Morty in the backseat.
io9: Did the idea for setting it at a sleepover come from horror movies?
Hardcastle: Yeah, exactly. Like I said, I was going for a bit more of a violent, scary angle to begin with, and the initial idea was always a sleepover and things going wrong, basically. I think it’s a good setting and, you know, the idea of staying over at someone else’s house—especially if you were to say over at Rick and Morty’s house, where you’ve got a mad scientist in the basement and something’s always going to go wrong. So it was a perfect situation for me to just feel safe as a story writer.
io9: What inspired the design of the monsters?
Hardcastle: To be honest, I was looking at Gizmo from Gremlins. I just wanted to do something that was a rip-off of that, basically, and I tried to make it as ridiculous as I could. I was just trying to some up with something I could manipulate in a silly sort of way, and that’s what I came up with.
io9: Was The Thing also an inspiration? How does it feel to be making the Halloween short for Rick and Morty?
Hardcastle: I mean, The Thing has always been a big inspiration throughout my work generally. But for this one, yeah, definitely with the creature changing into a bigger creature and things are popping out of it, that definitely was inspired from The Thing. I’ve never been asked to do anything like this, so it was quite an honor and quite a privilege—quite exciting to be recognized as someone that does this kind of stuff. I’ve always sort of aspired to be a horror film director as well, so it felt quite good, quite special.
io9: How long did it take to make this short from start to finish?
Hardcastle: It was about four months all in all.
io9: There are a few other names in the credits other than yours, but I assume this was mostly a one-man show?
Hardcastle: So, it’s a 10-minute short film, and I was feeling a lot of pressure because I was actually expecting a baby as a first-time parent during the production. So I was trying to finish the production and racing against the biological clock on the baby arriving. To make it easier, I came up with this idea of going into different types of animation just to share the workload; I got other animators involved to just contribute short little clips. [In the narrative, that worked out by having] the creature go through different multiverses, different mediums. And so that’s how that came about.
io9: I was going to ask about that, because it looks like there’s at least one section that’s CG instead of Claymation. Is that the case?
Speaker 2: Yeah! There’s actually some CG in there that looks like Claymation. I wanted to bridge the gap so [viewers] were confused—am I watching Claymation or CG? Then it goes into full-blown CG. I was trying to [go that route] so [the CG] wasn’t in your face immediately. I’ve never had any CG in my animations because it’s not something that I know how to do personally. So this is the first time I’ve had CG involved and got somebody else to do it. And I’ve always been quite blown away by how good it looks as well.
io9: There’s no dialogue in the short, but the soundtrack is quite interesting. How did you do the sound design for it?
Hardcastle: They asked me if I wanted any voice-over actors involved, but to keep things simple, I just kept it as a silent film. I handed over my short film a year ago, and I was left in the dark a little bit about what the process was going to be with the sound. And then I got the sound about two, three weeks ago, and I saw it for the first time, and it was all a bit of a surprise for me. I’ve never had that process before where someone’s just done the sound for me and said, “Well, here it is.” I’ve always kind of been involved, so I was a bit disappointed that I wasn’t involved in the process. So I responded to the track that was provided and just asked if I could change a few scenes that didn’t feel quite right, and I spent about two, three days just sorting out the soundtrack basically. Then I sent that back to them and they just accepted it; they didn’t really give any feedback, just said, “Ok. Great, cool.” So yeah, the audio is interesting because it went through a bit of a Frankenstein process. I like that about it, I like that sense of rawness when it comes to animation.
io9: So it’s a little bit you, a little bit Adult Swim.
Hardcastle: Yeah. And the guy that was doing it had really good, polished, sort of TV production library music, all that kind of thing. What I brought to it, I kind of grunged it up a bit, and I think that works for the narrative because we’re sort of jumping between two different worlds. So you’re left with this sort of spacey, wonky sound compared to a nice polished TV production sound. It has an extreme to it.
io9: Is the biggest exposure your Claymation work has had, or what else have you done in the past that people would have seen?
Hardcastle: Actually last week I was involved with another Justin Roiland project called The Paloni Show, which is on Hulu. And again, I’ve never been asked to do a short film. So I did a three-minute short that’s in that. But apart from that, I’ve always been the kind of guy that’s just got a lot of bits involved in stuff. There’s a film called The ABCs of Death that came out in 2012, and I’ve got a short bit in that. But most of what people know and recognize me from is my YouTube channel.
io9: Have you gotten any feedback yet on “Summer’s Sleepover” from Justin Roiland or Dan Harmon or any of the other Rick and Morty people?
Hardcastle: No. [Laughs.] I was approached about a year and a half ago to do the short, and the amount of feedback that I’ve had on it has been pretty much next to nothing. I’m quite excited for it to be broadcast because I want to know what people think!
io9: Rick and Morty fans are notoriously involved in the show—are you apprehensive at all about the response, or are you just excited?
Hardcastle: I am excited. I’m not worried or anything. It’s been such a long time for it to come out, I’m just happy for it to be going out. But as for the fans, I don’t really care too much if they receive it well or not. I guess that’s all part of the fun for me. If they like it, they like it... if they don’t, they don’t. I’m just really looking forward to it coming out and seeing what the result is.
Rick and Morty’s Halloween special “Summer’s Sleepover” debuted on Adult Swim last night; it’s now available on HBO Max and YouTube. Rick and Morty season six resumes November 20 on Adult Swim.